Want to know how to persuade people online and get what you want?

The power of influence is usually all that separates the successful from everyone else. These are some tactics, discovered through psychological research, that you have probably not yet heard about, but have the potential to increase your persuasive abilities.

I’m not going to cover reciprocity, scarcity or social proof and all those widely known persuasion principles. You already know all about those (in case you don’t, stop everything and read this book by Cialdini).

1. How to persuade skeptics: Be confident, talk fast

The best way to persuade audiences that are not inclined to agree with you, is to talk fast. Fast pace is distracting and people find it difficult to pick out the argument’s flaws. When talking to an audience who is likely to agree (preaching to the choir), slow down and give the audience time to agree some more.

Want to boost persuasive power? Talk with confidence.

Don Moore from Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Behavioral Decision Research has published research showing that confidence even trumps past accuracy in earning the trust of others.

We prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are.

People naturally associate confidence with expertise. Know your product, know the facts about its benefits and believe in what it does – true confidence becomes from knowing and believing what you’re saying. It’s essential that we communicate our confidence to others in order to persuade them.

2. Swearing can help persuade an audience

Light swearing, that is. (Go overboard and lose all credibility.)

Researchers divided 88 participants into three groups to watch one of three slightly different speeches. The only difference between the speeches was that one contained a mild curse word at the start:

…lowering of tuition is not only a great idea, but damn it, also the most reasonable one for all parties involved.

The second speech contained the ‘damn it’ at the end and the third had neither. When participants’ attitudes were measured, they were most influenced by the speeches with the mild obscenity included, either at the beginning or the end.

The word ‘damn’ increased the audience’s perception of the speaker’s intensity, which increased persuasion. The audience’s perceived credibility of the speaker did not change.

So that’s the secret of Gary Vaynerchuk and Dave McClure. I thought they’re just cool guys, but turns out that mild swearing is just a persuasion technique that is really effective.

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3. Get people to agree with you first

If you want to persuade people to buy into your message, start with something they can agree with.

In a research study by Jing Xu and Robert Wyerestablished, there were lingering effects of messages people agree with. In one of the tests, participants listen to a speech by John McCain or one by Barack Obama and then watch a TV ad for Toyota.

Republicans tended to be more swayed by the ad after watching the speech by John McCain, while Democrats showed the opposite effect, finding the ad more persuasive after the Obama speech.

So when you try to sell something, make statements or represent a world view your customers can agree with first – even if they have nothing to do with what you’re selling.

4. Balanced arguments are more persuasive

If what you are doing inspires (or can inspire) criticism, resist the instinct to paper over weaknesses. We fear undermining our point of view by talking about weaknesses, but actually it would help our case.
Psyblog writes:

Over the years psychologists have compared one-sided and two-sided arguments to see which are the most persuasive in different contexts. Daniel O’Keefe at the University of Illinois collected together the results of 107 different studies on sidedness and persuasion conducted over 50 years which, between them, recruited 20,111 participants (O’Keefe, 1999, Communication Yearbook, 22, pp. 209-249).

The results of this meta-analysis provide persuasive reading. What he found across different types of persuasive messages and with varied audiences, was that two-sided arguments are more persuasive than their one-sided equivalents.

People are not idiots. Knowing how to persuade means acknowledging they can think. If you don’t mention the other side of the coin in your arguments, people are less likely to believe you.

Perhaps it might be a good idea to mention the shortcomings of your product or service on your website.

5. People believe you more if they sit in the evidence

A research study by Ye Li, Eric Johnson, and Lisa Zaval looked into the belief into global warming and its relation to the current local weather.

Participants in the US and Australia rated the strength of their belief in global warming. They also rated whether they thought the temperature that day was warmer, colder, or about normal for that time of year. When people felt the day was warmer than usual, they also expressed a higher belief in global warming than when they felt the day was cooler than usual.

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In the related study they asked the same stuff, but also asked for a donation to a non-profit combating climate change. The participants in this study donated over four times as much money when the day was much warmer than usual than when the day was much cooler than usual.

If you want people to buy your message, ask for the sale in the situation that supports your claims. Online, your best persuasion techniques are art to use emotional design, storytelling & imagery that builds the stage for your story.

6. Upsell a product that cost 60% less

Once somebody gets to a point that they’ll buy something from you, they have given you their trust and have convinced themselves it’s okay to give you money. In that moment you are able to sell them more.

When somebody buys a shirt, you upsell should be a tie and not the whole suit.

The time-tested 60×60 rule says that your customers will buy an upsell 60 percent of the time for up to 60% of the original purchase price. Any upsell you offer must be congruent with the original purchase.

If you don’t use up-selling in your business yet, it’s a quick way to boost profits (“would you like fries with that?”).

7. Frame it in the positive

Emphasising the positive can be more persuasive than pointing out the negative.

An analysis added up the results of 29 different studies, which had been carried out on 6,378 people in total. The finding was that there was a slight persuasive advantage for messages that were framed positively.

This study had to do with the way people relate to disease prevention, such as encouraging people to use sunscreen, and promoting healthy eating habits, but it might have a wider appeal. The researchers hypothesized the reason to be that we don’t like to be bullied into changing our behaviour.

Try framing your marketing message in the positive (“Gain additional hour every day” vs “Stop wasting time”) and see if it makes a difference.

8. The paradox of choice

The more choice you offer, the less people will take you up on it – says this study.

Researchers set up a jam-tasting stall in a posh supermarket in California. Sometimes they offered six varieties of jam, at other times 24. Jam tasters were then offered a voucher to buy jam at a discount.

While more choice attracted more customers to look, very few of them actually bought jam. The display that offered less choice made many more sales — in fact, only 3 per cent of jam tasters at the 24-flavour stand used their discount voucher, versus 30 per cent at the six-flavour stand.

If you have a ton of products, invest in building better filters that help people make the choice. Read the excellent book or watch the great TED talk on the topic.

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9. If something happens often enough, you will eventually be persuaded

Repetition of things has a distinct effect on us. Advertisements repeated replay themselves when we see the product. The songs that radios play over and over again eventually grow on us.

Repetition of a word or visual pattern not only causes it to be remembered (which is persuasive in itself), it also leads people to accept what is being repeated as being true.

ChangingMinds writes this about Hugh Rank’s persuasion research (Teaching about public persuasion, 1976):

Our brains are excellent pattern-matchers and reward us for using this very helpful skill. Repetition creates a pattern, which consequently and naturally grabs our attention.

Repetition creates familiarity, but does familiarity breed contempt? Although it can happen, the reality is that familiarity leads to liking in far more case than it does to contempt. When we are in a supermarket, we are far more likely to buy familiar brands, even if we have never tried the product before. 

Think about the last time you bought a pair of shoes. Did you pick them then put them down several times before trying them on. Did you come back to try them again? If so, you are in good company. Many people have to repeat things several times before they get convinced. Three times is a common number.

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Use repetition of key benefits or value proposition in your sales copy and ad campaigns many times. Effective advertising and political campaigns do that (“Geico can save you 15% or more …”). Use friendly repetition to create familiarity and hence liking.

Another research reveals even if only one member of a group repeats their opinion, it is more likely to be seen by others as representative of the whole group.

10. Men are more responsive to email than face-to-face talk

Guadagno & Cialdini research (2002) showed that men seem more responsive to email because it bypasses their competitive tendencies. Women, however, may respond better in face-to-face encounters because they are more ‘relationship-minded’

This research is suggesting that email could provide a way of side-stepping men’s competitive tendencies. But, this only applies to distant relationships. The closer the relationship between men, the better face to face works.

When you want to persuade a man you don’t know too well, start with an email.

11. Limiting the quantity you can buy makes you buy more

From Brian Wansink’s excellent book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think:

A while back, I teamed up with two professor friends of mine—Steve Hoch and Bob Kent—to see if anchoring influences how much food we buy in grocery stores. We believed that grocery shoppers who saw numerical signs such as “Limit 12 Per Person” would buy much more than those who saw signs such as “No Limit Per Person.”

To nail down the psychology behind this, we repeated this study in different forms, using different numbers, different promotions (like “2 for $2” versus “1 for $1”), and in different supermarkets and convenience stores. By the time we finished, we knew that almost any sign with a number promotion leads us to buy 30 to 100 percent more than we normally would.

So put numbered limitations or anchors on the quantity your customer can buy from you.

12. Story beats data

A Carnegie Mellon University study in 2007 by Deborah Small, GeorgeLowenstein and Paul Slovic compared the effects of story vs data.

Test subjects where asked to collect donations for a dire situation in Africa. The data pitch contained statistics about food shortages in Malawi, lack of rain in Zambia, and the dislocation of millions in Angola.

The second version talked about a particular girl in Zambia, Rokia, who was starving. People were shown her photo and asked to donate to help her directly.

On average, students who received the fact-based appeal from Save the Children donated $1.14. Students who read the story about Rokia donated an average of $2.38, more than twice as much.

In a third experiment, students were told Rokia’s story but also included statistics about persistent drought, shortfalls in crop production, and millions of Africans who were going hungry. While students who had read Rokia’s story alone donated an average of $2.38, those who read the story plus the data donated an average of $1.43.

The plight of Africa, the fight with poverty is too overwhelming and people feel their contribution is just a drop in a bucket, hence feel less inclined to help.

“If I look at the mass I will never act,” said Mother Teresa. “If I look at the one, I will.”

13. Marketing to men? Use photos of women

A field experiment in the consumer credit market found that pictures of women as as effective as low interest rate.

A South African lender sent letters offering incumbent clients large, short-term loans at randomly chosen interest rates. The letters also contained independently randomized psychological “features”. As expected, the interest rate significantly affected loan take-up. Inconsistent with standard economics, some of the psychological features also significantly affected take-up.

For the male customers, replacing the photo of a male with a photo of female on the offer letter statistically significantly increases takeup; the effect is about as much as dropping the interest rate 4.5 percentage points… For female customers, we find no statistically significant patterns.

Overall, these results suggest a very powerful effect on male customers of seeing a female photo on the offer letter. Standard errors however do not allow us to isolate one specific mechanism for this effect. The effect on male customers may be due to either the positive impact of a female photo or the negative impact of a male photo.

The experiment featured a rather dramatic range in interest rates – 3.25% to 11.75%. The effect of a photo of a woman on a loan offer was equivalent 4.5% difference in the loan interest rate.

Next time add a photo of a woman to your offer and see your conversions go up.

The above study did not feature sexy women. But would a sexy women wearing bikinis help?

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Research shows that arousal makes men stupid, as they become bad at making decisions. It gives them tunnel vision. The effect seems to be a short-term -one that would be most effective at the point of purchase, for impulse purchases.

The ideal selling situation would be to have the bikini-clad babe selling to the men in person. I guess you could do that also online for products meant only for men.

Studies have shown that sexy ads don’t really make men remember the product. We’re so lasered in on the sexy stuff, we don’t care what brand of product it is.

14. Want to convince leaders? Make them feel less powerful

Don’t bother trying to persuade your boss of a new idea while he’s feeling the power of his position, research suggests he’s not listening to you.

“Powerful people have confidence in what they are thinking. Whether their thoughts are positive or negative toward an idea, that position is going to be hard to change,” said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

The best way to get leaders to consider new ideas is to put them in a situation where they don’t feel as powerful, the research suggests.

“Our research shows that power makes people more confident in their beliefs, but power is only one thing that affects confidence,” Petty said. “Try to bring up something that the boss doesn’t know, something that makes him less certain and that tempers his confidence.”

“You want to sow all your arguments when the boss is not thinking of his power, and after you make a good case, then remind your boss of his power. Then he will be more confident in his own evaluation of what you say. As long as you make good arguments, he will be more likely to be persuaded,” Petty said.

So in a nutshell:

  • make the leaders feel less powerful and confident by talking about stuff they don’t know and if possible, talk outside of his office (neutral territory),
  • after the pitch, remind them who’s the boss, so they could take action on your request.

15. The Sullivan Nod

Invented by restaurant consultant, Jim Sullivan, the Sullivan nod involves reciting a list of options but just inclining your head slightly when you reach the choice you’d like the buyer to make. The nod has to be subtle, but perceptible and works best in lists of no more than five items. According to Jim Sullivan, it’s successful up to 60 percent of the time.

Whenever servers suggest a beverage, have them smile and slowly nod their heads up and own as they make the suggestion. Body language is powerful, and research shows that over 60% of the time, the guest will nod right back and take your suggestion!

I bet you could use that online in sales videos. When talking about plans or packages, do the nod on the one you want them to buy.

16. Clarity trumps persuasion

Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of Marketing Experiments likes to say this: “Clarity trumps persuasion”. Remember this.

Persuasion tricks work when done subtly and skillfully. Overdo it and you lose the sale. When you’re writing sales copy or doing presentations, the best way to persuade people is to use clarity. Give people enough information to make up their mind without being cheesy or using hype.

17. 87% of people believe everything if there’s a percentage in it

That’s what I’ve heard anyway ;)

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